Speaking after a limited edition beer was launched in Japan using Black Ivory coffee in Japan, founder Blake Dinkin said he was open to licensing agreements in Japan, but told this publication: “The [Sankt Gallen] beer was actually produced without our permission. Someone bought the beans at retail price from one of our hotel stockists, then sold them online on Amazon Japan at $100/pack.”
“The Japanese microbrewer, St. Gallen, bought the coffee from an unauthorized seller. I’m trying to prevent this. Apparently the beer was good – but what it it had been horrible? That wouldn’t help our brand.”
Nonetheless, Dinkin concedes that St. Gallen may have actually done Black Ivory a favor in PR terms, and said: “We’re trying to identify a very reputable microbrewer interested in a licensing agreement for Black Ivory Coffee. I’m looking into that in Japan at the moment.
“But we won’t go ahead without the right partner who shares our artisanal values.”
Spent $400,000 to establish brand
Dinkin has spent $400,000 developing the brand to make it commercially viable since 2003, and registered Black Ivory Coffee as a Thai company in October 2012; his coffee surpasses safety standards laid down by the nation’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Black Ivory produced only 70kg of the coffee in 2012, and Dinkin estimates production will total 300kg in 2013, with the $1200/kg coffee sold in 5-star hotels in Thailand, Mauritius for a $50/serving (four cups).
Discussing the birth of the brand, Dinkin says he began by researching Canadian zoo elephants for a year, and was initially “not only naïve, but completely mistaken” in thinking that the process was so simple as just feeding elephants beans then waiting to collect the beans.
Dinkin attributes the coffee’s taste benefits to elephant enzymes that break down proteins in beans, stripping out the bitterness, while herbivores such as elephants use much more fermentation for digestion, which helps impart fruit from the coffee pulp into the bean.
To get the right taste, Dinkin insists the right elephant feed is crucial, as is the state of the coffee cherries and bean processing – it took him 10 years to perfect Black Ivory Coffee’s production process.
Dinkin will seek $20,000 funding via Kickstarter.com for patent applications in around 15 countries, and insists intellectual property – to help ensure a properly made, ethically produced product – is vital for the future of Black Ivory Coffee, given that this is lacking in coffees made using predigestion by civets.
Arabica beans are refined by elephants at the charitable Gloden Triangle Elephant Foundation, 8% of sales fund veterinaran care for Thai elephants through this body, while further funds are being used to buy medicine and build a new research laboratory.
Civet cat coffee – Sexual prowess claims
Conversely, civet cat coffee is not trademarked, Dinkin says, while “quality control is all over the place, packaging is tacky, and wild claims are made like ‘assists sexual prowess’. It’s ridiculous”.
He notes that Massimo Marconi, a University of Guelph researcher, estimates that 50-70% of civet coffee worldwide was counterfeit, and that in Vietnam cocoa was even added to make it sweeter.
The noughties SARS scare in China relating to human consumption of civets was “not the best PR”, Dinkin adds, which led him to Asian elephants (in Thailand) as clean, monogastric, accessible and safe animals.
Asked how much the Black Ivory brand is worth, Dinkin says: “This is my passion. I haven’t put a value on the brand because that doesn’t matter to me. If I won the lottery tomorrow, I’d still be doing this.”